Monday, February 22, 2016

The Visit

If there’s any one director out there who’s had a rough decade of criticism—some I agree with, some I don’t—it would be M. Night Shyamalan.  The acclaimed and admired director of The Sixth Sense would fall flat, with critics, a mere seven to nine years later (depending on what movie was cited)  and was peddled as never returning to his glory days.

I’ve agreed with most of the critics when discussing Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender, or After Earth, but I still stand firm on The Happening being not such a bad movie as most people think.  And even out of the three I thought were terrible, I don’t think you can really blame Shyamalan for After Earth, but rather fault the father/son performances of Will and Jaden Smith (more from the latter and not so much from the former).

Last summer, Shyamalan produced—as well as directed one episode of—a ten-episode mystery television show called “Wayward Pines,” which was based on a book series by the author Blake Crouch.  The show had a great dark atmosphere and every episode kept you enthralled and wanting more.  I was mildly surprised by the success of it and found that Shyamalan deserved more chances behind the camera for theatrical features, in my opinion.

So, almost as a follow-up to the TV show, September of 2015 brought us Shyamalan’s first motion picture since 2013’s After Earth called The Visit.

Agreeing to give their mother, Loretta (Kathryn Hahn), a vacation break with her boyfriend, siblings, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), go to visit their grandparents for a five-day stay.  Having never met their grandparents due to a falling out their mother had with them fifteen years prior, they decide to film the visit as a documentary.  Soon after Becca and Tyler meet “Nana” (Deanna Dunagan) and “Pop Pop” (Peter McRobbie), they start to witness abnormal behavior from both grandparents, becoming more and more disturbing each day.

At first, I was a little taken aback that the film was presented in the “found footage” category, with the siblings each video recording everything.  More often than not, that type of sub-genre fails and makes the feature seem less enjoyable.  But Shyamalan was able to present this nicely, making you forget about it soon after the movie begins.  Especially when the brother and sister get to their grandparents’ house, the story gets so interesting, you don’t even think about that aspect anymore.  You begin to see it—if noticed—as a directed set-up of shots (which I’m sure that’s exactly what they were—I doubt Shyamalan just gave these kids a couple of camcorders and told them to shoot whatever they wanted).  The views exhibited what you needed to see and gave you just enough to make it credible as shots filmed by these children.

With the exception of one, the cast kept me very interested up until the end of the story. 

I’ve got to give props to Peter McRobbie and especially Deanna Dunagan for their performances.  Shyamalan really had to tread softly on the subject of dementia and senility because this could’ve gone terribly wrong if the performances were a little overblown.  But, as demeaning as the portrayals were, the two elder actors pulled it off. 

Even though we don’t see much of Kathryn Hahn in this flick, her short interviews conducted for the documentary were moving and felt authentic.  Seeing that I only know her from her comedic roles in Anchorman, Stepbrothers, and We’re the Millers, I kind of doubted we’d feel any empathy for her, but she’s a more versatile actress than I give her credit for and felt her performance really helped the story.

Olivia DeJonge as the older sibling had a huge responsibility in this film, being the one to express the needed narrative throughout the story—disguised as the documentary’s exposition—and she was well cast in the part.  If we’d gotten your typical teen (one that’s consumed with one’s looks, fashion
or the popular boy bands), this film would’ve went downhill fast.  But because she was articulate and was shown as a well-adjusted adolescent, more concerned about her future than the here and now, she served as the film’s catalyst and helped with keeping the audience’s interest as the film went on.

Now, let’s talk about the thorn in everyone’s side—in my opinion—of the movie, the character of Tyler…the little 13-year-old rapper who had gotten on my nerves from minute one.  Whose idea was to have this kid pretend he was some rap master?  How does it help the story?  Because I can tell you how it hinders the story.  I cringed every time this little white-bread urbanized sprog opened his mouth to speak as it was, so having him spit rhymes here and there was ridiculous.  I didn’t see this film in theaters, but I’m sure the audience groaned every time this kid started with his raps.  However, regardless of those setbacks, I thought he did fine as the concerned little brother with mysophobia.  And let me say, that fear of germs gets put to the test at the end of this film…don’t eat while watching the climax.

You know, the one thing everybody knows M. Night Shyamalan for is that he includes ingenious twists at the end of his movies—the ending for The Sixth Sense was really the only one, with Unbreakable and The Village having only derivative twists at best—and although this film had one, it still wasn’t up there in shock value like the 1999 film had achieved.  I can’t say that I saw it coming here in The Visit, but I had kind of gotten the gist of it.  And even though I had, it still was a very satisfying ending.

So, what’s my final “bit” on M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit?

The director seems to be back on track, writing better dialogue and does a great job bringing in the eerie vibe into this flick.  The movie will keep your interest as you’ll want to know where everything leads and how it’ll end.  With the exception of the one character’s musical representation, all the cast meshes well together and you can believe you’re really experiencing these accounts as it unfolds.  I’m very happy for Shyamalan as I really didn’t think he was washed up, only tried to put too many titles on his plate.  Hoping he stays on track, I’m looking forward to his next film, Split, as well as anything he’ll come up with after that.  I highly recommend The Visit so take a gander and let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading!

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